Monthly Archives: August 2013
Bog Removal Underway
By Buz Whelan and Bill Henry
You made have seen a funny-looking yellow contraption this past week on West Emerald Lake, but if you missed it look to East Emerald Lake in the coming week. That’s a bog boat, and its purpose is to remove the floating bogs from lakes, here East and West Emerald Lakes. And that ‘contraption’ cost upwards of $85,000, accessories not included. Accessories include a huge bladder for containing and draining the bog material, large diameter hoses and miscellaneous connection and holding gear.
Essentially a peat bog is lake bottom. It can become loose and then in warm weather float to the top of the lake. It presents a swimming and boating hazard and gives off an unpleasant odor. Bogs have a tendency to accrue, to grow larger and larger over time. If unchecked they will eventually take over a lake, at first turning it into a swampy quagmire and eventually drying out to leave a meadow, its character depending on local native growth.
Beginning two years ago, management sought bids on removal. Eco Scientific
Solutions was chosen to do the work. They have done other types of lake management work for the association in the past. Owner-operator gave an estimate of $8,000 and a budget line item of $9,500 was put in the 2012/2013 budget to cover the additional cost of permit fees. It was estimated that 700 cubic yards of wet material would have to be removed from the lakes, which would leave about 250 cubic yards of dried matter to be eventually taken from the site. Bog removal will take about two weeks, until the end of next week, and then an additional several weeks will be needed for the material to dry.
Emerald Lakes will retain some of the dried material since it makes a very nutritious topsoil.
Miller Resigns From ELA Board
by Buz Whelan
EMERALD LAKES, Pennsylvania (ELFP) Emerald Lakes Board of Directors member Joe Miller tendered his resignation to the board via email Tuesday, August 20th. It was to be effective at midnight that day. In his email Miller states that increased demands from his business coupled with competing demands on his time from workshops, open meetings and liaison work are taking a toll. He further says that he believes someone with more time, preferably one who is a full-time resident, would be better for the association. He also pointed out that the new bylaw assigning a vacancy to the next highest vote-getter at the Annual Meeting puts Margaret Fitzgerald in his place, a situation he is comfortable with. Finally, Miller wished the board continued success.
In a ‘phone conversation, Miller was more forthcoming on his reasons for resigning. “I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the board’s actions and practices over the last 18 months or so. Some of the things that have been done and hidden from the membership are just plain wrong, in my opinion, but the tight confidentiality agreement and the fact that these decisions are made under the cloak of executive sessions make it difficult for me to be more open. I don’t think the board members are evil, but I think they are misguided. I began serving on the board under the presidency of Buz Whelan when transparency was the watchword. Other members of that board, like Bob Lauri or Paul Capozzoli would never stand for secrecy. This board is the opposite. My conscience has really brought me to this decision. I’m sorry I can’t say more.”
Miller added, “I want to say something positive about Margaret Fitzgerald. She was frequently my only supporter and backed me in my objections to secrecy. I think she is a good person and I wish her well. I don’t know June Solla as well, but what I do know, I like. I think she’ll be a good board member and I wish her luck and success.”
- New Board Officer Selection Produces Only One Change (emeraldlakesfreepress.com)
New Board Officer Selection Produces Only One Change
by Buz Whelan
Immediately following the Annual Meeting the Emerald Lakes Board of Directors met to select the officers for the new elective year. Alex Leslie was returned as board president. Earl Frank was renamed treasurer. Once again, Carmen Broadnax will serve as secretary. For the only change, Daniel Glasgow will replace Millie Bishop as vice president. Per the election the board has one new member, June Solla. Director Joe Miller was absent from the reorganization meeting as well as the Annual Meeting. His absence fueled rumors of a pending resignation. Should this occur, Margaret Fitzgerald, the next-highest vote getter would automatically be elevated to the board. The bylaw change at the Annual Meeting mandating this came just in time for Ms. Fitzgerald. Under previous rules the board could select whomever they wished to serve as a replacement. The replacement, according to the bylaws, serves until the following Annual Meeting when the membership would select a candidate to serve out the term. In this case, with two years left on Miller’s term, the person elected next year would serve for one year.
August 17, 2013 Annual Meeting Held
by Buz Whelan
POCONO SUMMIT, Pennsylvania (ELFP) In the most civil Annual Meeting in recent years voters returned Millie Bishop to the Emerald Lakes Board of Directors and elected June Solla to her first term. Both are three year terms. The members present also passed all five suggested bylaw changes, though community life will be largely unaffected since they mainly bring the bylaws into congruence with current practices. Briefly, fines and appeals must be paid/filed within 30 business days rather than the 10 calendar days previously specified. Audits must be conducted annually by a certified public accountant or firm rather than every 5 years previously required. The Campgrounds Committee, moribund beyond anyone’s recollection, is officially dropped as a standing committee. Finally, when a board vacancy occurs midterm, the next-highest vote getter at the previous Annual Meeting automatically is installed until the next Annual Meeting when a vote would be held to fill out the term. If no next-highest vote getter is available, the board will select the temporary replacement.
The messages of President Alex Leslie and General Manager Allen Roth featured essentially the same highlights. These included upgrading association hardware and software, a new aggressive collection procedure for delinquencies, a system for tracking equipment and vehicle repairs, increased use of in-house maintenance projects such as road patching and basketball court repairs, landscaping projects such as that at Pine Tree Lake, outdoor pool repair, 12 drainage projects around the community, the looming purchase of a new public safety vehicle and single-stream recycling. The GM also reported that he and the board have decided to follow the Maintenance Committee’s recommendation to suspend repaving after the current cycle and concentrate on a long range plan to rebuild the roads. This would mean an extensive drainage and crowning project which would only then be followed by repaving. Pothole patching would continue as always. The intention is to create roads that would last 3 to 4 times longer than current. It seems that for the last several years we have been (chasing our tail, spinning our wheels, marching in place – choose your metaphor) falling further and further behind in road maintenance. This plan would correct that, but not without short term pain.
Treasurer Earl Frank reported under budget totals that are roughly balanced by revenue shortfalls. Our overall collections are running at about 75%. Our reserve fund stands at about $315,000 when professional studies report it should be around $1.6 million.
Our auditor Ray Zavada echoed Earl’s take on reserves, but gave the association high marks for adhering to Generally Accepted Accounting Procedures (GAAP). A high GAAP score indicates the proper handling of monies, but offers no comment on the wisdom of the spending choices made. Zavada also pointed out that our assets minus our liabilities leave a valuation of $3.8 million.
Attorney George Hludzik detailed the collection procedures his office is undertaking, emphasizing that we are ramping up our seizure demands by increasing the requests for liens and going after personal possessions of delinquents through sheriff’s sales along with house/property liens.
Finally, Finance & Planning Committee representative Buz Whelan went over that committee’s responsibilities and the availability of up-to-date association financial data. He pointed out that all F&P meetings are open to member visitors and are held in the Community Center at 9:30 am on the third Saturday of every month. He also said that anyone wishing assistance in understanding association finances would find willing helpers in the committee membership.
As has been the custom in recent years, no mention was made of the Pine Tree mugging, the Gap View murder victim or any other negative information such as break-ins, equipment and vehicle theft or personal assaults.
Board of Directors Vote Totals
Millie Bishop* 53
Margaret Fitzgerald 49
Sherri Ornitz 37
Connie Simpson 40
June Solla* 50
*Elected to board
Cabaret ’35 – The Best of Times is Now
By Lola Lauri
Cabaret ’35 began at 7 pm on August 10th at “Club Emerald” (formerly known as the Community Center). Its creators worked all day to create the illusion of a nightclub from the 1930’s, and their attention to detail showed. Guests entered past the old time ticket booth, which was graced with a large sign declaring this performance “Sold Out”. The dining room was elegant, with black tablecloths topped with mirrors and lovely white candle lamps. A glance out the window, showed a dark city skyline with a bright crescent moon above. A peek over the fireplace afforded a view of the “band”, in its art deco orchestra pit. In front, to the left, a large lighted sign dotted with fireflies declared that this was Club Emerald in elegant script and, to the right, a dazzling
tinsel curtain covered the hallway exit. In the center, an art deco patterned curtained served as a backdrop for the stage where the performance was soon to begin.
As the stylishly dressed guests filed in, greeting friends and neighbors, anticipation for the show began to build. The staff hurried to seat and take orders from the more than 70
guests in attendance. Overwhelmed by the initial rush of patrons, they struggled to get drinks and food to everyone but, by 8:15, most were enjoying their drinks and settling in for the entertainment.
Chef Todd had a superb menu for this evening, with an assortment of small plates, designed for sharing. Shrimp cocktail, a classic from the era, was a popular selection, along with the crab stuffed mushrooms and the potato
blintzes smothered in a caramelized onion crème. The London broil salad in balsamic vinaigrette and the fried calamari with marinara sauce for dipping were both tasty and delicious too. There was also a special cocktail menu for those who wished to sample drinks that were typical fare in 1935. Peach Bellinis and Mint Juleps were refreshing choices for several guests.
Before the show, guests were directed to the giant crescent moon in the corner for a photo opportunity. With
legs draped across the moon, guests cuddled and smiled for the camera, then left their contact information so they could have a digital keepsake of this fun event. Bob Lauri was our eager photographer, and he captured many memories of the evening, including the ones pictured here in this article. (Thanks, Honey!)
When it was time for the show to begin, Buz Whelan introduced the performer for the evening, Elizabeth Knecht. Buz and I met Elizabeth last year when she performed at The Speakeasy Lounge (see here, for a review of that evening)
and we were both extremely excited to bring her to Emerald Lakes. Elizabeth took to the stage with a black and gold sequined dress and a short black flapper hairdo. She set the mood by singing “Cabaret” and then launched into her rendition of “All That Jazz” while actively recruiting audience members to sing and dance along with her. Resident Melanie Balzano took no time at all to decide that she was going to be in the act, as she enthusiastically leapt to the dance floor. Elizabeth also brought along her young niece, Ashley, who lent her dancing skills to the festivities throughout the night. Soon enough, many of the other guests took turns dancing
and singing as well. But it was Elizabeth that caught everyone’s heart with her powerful and heartbreaking version of “Memories”. The standing ovation that followed showed just how much the audience was captured by her performance.
After a brief intermission Buz introduced “Liz K” – Elizabeth, but with a black lace dress and a blond curly hairdo. She continued to wow the crowd with selections
that alternated from romantic to rousing, keeping toes tapping, hands clapping and the dance floor full. All too soon, the last song was upon us and she closed the evening with “The Best of Times is Now” (from La Cage Aux Folles).
Everyone rose to their feet, clapping and singing along as Elizabeth took her leave from the stage.
The only piece of business left was for us to announce the winners of the
best dressed couple prizes. We awarded Melanie Balzano second place because, even though her husband Mario did not dress in costume, Melanie had enough spirit and costume for two. With gangster-style pinstripes and flapper
fun (and a boa that shed feathers in its wake!) first place
went to Emerald Lakes President Alex Leslie and his wife, Gini.
Finally, it takes a lot to bring a night like this together, and Buz and I are very thankful for all the folks who helped us. The ELA staff was wonderful – especially Todd, Heather and Jackie; even our Public Safety officers helped out when the servers fell behind! In fact, Heather and Jackie spent the whole week leading up to the show working on ways to make this event special. They designed costumes and makeup for the servers; they spent hours creating
and setting up the lovely table centerpieces and the old time ticket booth for the entrance to the Community Center; and they put their creative skills to work all day Saturday designing and painting the lighted “Club Emerald” sign for the stage area, all before helping the rest of us decorate and set up the room for the evening. These two gave a very special effort for Cabaret ’35 and we could not have pulled the evening together nearly so well without their creativity and talent. We also want to thank Stefania, Darren, Kathy, Shari, and Meredith, who gave the afternoon to help with decorations and, of course, we can’t forget the Lovely Elizabeth Knecht. In spite of the troubles, disagreements and difficulties of our community and of the present time, it is when we all come together to celebrate that we can remember that the Best of Times really is now. Buz and I truly enjoyed bringing this party to the community and hope you all will support us in the future.
Attending the Annual Meeting: What You Should Know
by Buz Whelan
Saturday, August 17, 2013 is the Annual Meeting. We’ll be deciding on some minor bylaw revisions, mostly to bring the bylaws into congruence with actual current practice, and most importantly we’ll be selecting two board members to serve for three years as directors. Who should we choose? Why?
First, the good news. The most commonly heard complaint at open meetings and on our Facebook page is, “Why aren’t we going after the deadbeats,” or, “Why aren’t we doing more to collect delinquent dues.” The answer, frustrating as it may seem, is that we are. We are doing all that is legally possible to collect all monies owed to the association, including delinquent dues, late fees and fines for other offenses. Absolutely no one is given a pass. Our attorney spends the bulk of the time he works for us on just this matter. So, why then are there still outstanding debts? There are a number of problems, roadblocks if you will. Many of those who owe have abandoned their homes. They have simply walked away, and have very little in the way of assets that can be attached. Further, many have also obtained the protection of court-approved bankruptcy which prohibits us from further collection attempts. And when banks seize properties through the foreclosure process, they often fail to pay dues. To be sure, we go after them, but it is a long process, expensive and difficult because of the many avenues of appeals and delays open to a bank with a staff of attorneys. Frequently, back dues are collected when the property changes hands, when the bank sells to a new owner. In order to transfer the property, all liens must be satisfied and we stand ready to collect. But this is not always the case. So far this year we have collected $92, 000 in back dues, fines and fees.
The most grievous fault of the current board is its total lack of respect for the membership. This fact can be seen in action after action by the board, and it not only leaves the membership completely out of the loop in decision-making, it is costly – wasteful, actually – as well. Following are examples of this.
During the Summer of 2012 the association purchased new software called TOPS that was intended to be a complete, integrated control system for all our finances and records. Among the capabilities of this software was a website that would be more comprehensive and responsive than our then-current one. We already had a webmaster, Bob Leon, and he was doing a pretty good job. Bowing to the desires of the General Manager, Bob was ordered to close the website while two employees were tasked with learning the format and operational requirements of the new website supplied with the new software. What was wrong with this decision? Well, I’m an experienced helicopter pilot, military trained and combat experienced. If you wanted me to fly a new bird, it might take me 10 to 25 hours to familiarize myself with the controls, the cockpit layout and the flight characteristics. But it would take a non-pilot hundreds of hours. As an experienced webmaster it might have taken Mr. Leon a month or two to learn the characteristics of the new website. But the two employees selected, with much more limited experience, have not gotten the new website to be fully operational one full year later. This, despite the fact that one employee was upgraded from part-time to full-time at considerable expense to the association. Mr. Leon was doing the work as a volunteer, for free.
We have three members that I know of that have experience as editors of newspapers; Denise Wilson, Lola Lauri and me, Buz Whelan. From 2004 to 2012 one or the other of us was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. We had one absolute requirement: that we would be free from board interference in bringing the news to the members of the association, whether that news was happy or sad, flattering to the board or not. We also insisted that we had a right to publish an editorial and letters to the editor. All of that was taken away at the July 2012 Monthly Open Meeting. The General Manager was given authority over the Emerald News, and in conscience, Lola and I were forced to resign.
I was far from a perfect board president. But transparency was my watchword, whether I was comfortable with what that exposed to the membership or not. Everyone in the association had a right to criticize me, employee, management or the board as a whole, through published letters to the editor. I held two Executive Sessions (closed meetings) in my two years. This board has held as many as 3 in a single month and rarely fewer than 2 per month.
In the past year, real estate decisions have been made without any input from the Real Estate Committee. Maintenance decisions have been made without input from the Maintenance Committee. And structural changes with major financial ramifications have been made without any input from the Finance and Planning Committee. This is against both the spirit and letter of our bylaws.
Now we approach the time of the Annual Meeting and you will hear speeches touting the successes of the board. Listen to them with the skeptical ear of the seasoned observer rather than the wide-eyed optimism of the uninformed.
Who Should I Vote For?
You should vote for the candidates who you believe will best serve your interests. What those interests are will vary with the member. There are five candidates running for two open positions on the board. Each open position is for three years. There are two current directors running for re-election: Vice President Millie Bishop and Director Margaret Fitzgerald. There are three other candidates who would serve for the first time: Sherri Ornitz, Connie Simpson and June Solla. Each has made her case in the July issue of the Emerald News and at the August 3rd session of Meet the Candidates. We cannot go over everything covered in those two venues, but we can summarize. If you like the way the board has operated in the last year you must return Ms. Bishop to the board. She has been instrumental in virtually all the decisions referred to above. Contrariwise, if you are unhappy with many or all of the board’s actions, Margaret Fitzgerald, who has been a dissenting voice, should be your choice. The choice between the three other candidates is more difficult. I have served on one committee or another with all of them. None would be a bad choice. Each has worked diligently for you. But here we (Lola Lauri and I) have decided to endorse Connie Simpson. She approached us, sat down for an extended interview and gave us, in the main, the answers we were looking for. It is more the congruency of our principles than anything that makes us choose Ms. Simpson. She is in favor of returning control of our communications, the Emerald News and the website www.elainc.org, to the control of members rather than employees. She believes members have a right to have their voice heard via letters published in the Emerald News. And as a member of multiple committees, most prominently Finance & Planning, she is a strong supporter of the committee system.
So that’s our take on the upcoming meeting and election. We hope to see you there.
Correction to “Meet the Candidates 2013” article
In the article I attributed a plan to acquire and utilize abandoned properties to Connie Simpson. This was incorrect. The suggestion was made by Sherri Ornitz. I also failed to mention that Ms. Simpson feels that current landlords are undercharged and that we should raise our fees for rentals. She noted that A Pocono Country Place charges $175 per rental, regardless of length of time. My apologies to both Ms. Ornitz and Ms. Simpson. I regret the errors.
Meet the Candidates 2013: A New Format
by Buz Whelan
As it began at about 9:40am on Saturday, August 3, 2013 in the bingo room of the Community Center the room was filled with eager candidates and members who came to hear what they had to say. And, whether it was the fatigue caused by time, or a somewhat confusing format, by the time it came to a tired end there were 6 spectators left. I was one of them.
The candidates were: Millie Bishop, seeking reelection; Margaret Fitzgerald, also seeking reelection; Sherri Ornitz, Connie Simpson and June Solla, all seeking their first term. I list them as they sat, left to right.
Instead of asking a question and letting each candidate in turn have a crack at it, questions were asked of a specific candidate and after the answer a different question was asked of the next candidate. Eventually the questions were recycled and a different candidate was given the earlier question. By the time we entered the third hour of the session, candidates had to repeatedly remind the moderator that they were being given a question they had previously answered. A number of questions were never answered by several of the candidates, apparently due to this selection method.
Millie Bishop listed 24/7 security and mailing out the Emerald News as her two top priorities, should she be returned to the board. She also said that in order to build community spirit we should have more events. She failed to offer any ideas on how these additions to the budget would be funded. Increasing security to 168 hours a week would require at least 4 full time employees and possibly at least one part timer to supplement in the event of sickness or vacation. Where would the $100,000 plus come from? Asked about her position on absentee balloting, Ms. Bishop dodged the question saying that this was a matter being considered by the Bylaws Committee. Asked to give her opinion on the association’s management hierarchy she was unclear, putting several different entities (the board, the GM) on the same plane. She also gave a confusing answer to a question about how she would respond if confronted with a situation to which she had no prior experience or knowledge. She seemed to be answering a question about conflict resolution, saying she would ask each side for their version of the facts and go from there.
Margaret Fitzgerald pointed to the need to improve communication as a priority, saying that we, as a community, engage in excessive rumor-mongering, and that the website and paper should be used to give clear and complete information on current events. This contrasted with Bishop’s position that the Emerald News and website should carry only good news and that all negativity be suppressed. Ms. Fitzgerald also felt that paving the compactor area should be done forthwith, and revealed that this is already being recommended favorably by the Maintenance Committee, the General Manager and the rest of the board. On volunteerism, she said that this makes the community strong and has the secondary benefit of bringing people together in forging friendships. When asked if there was wasteful spending she would cut, she answered that she knows of no wasteful spending and if she did, she would already be working to eliminate it. But she went on to say that there are differences in perspective and that it is always possible to rethink choices and shift priorities.
Sherri Ornitz pointed to her employment background in team building and supervising the execution of contracts and projects. She said that we should be preparing for long term goals rather than the short term planning and reacting that characterizes, in her opinion, current operations. She also cautioned, in response to a question on cutting full time employees, that she does not believe that could be done and still maintain the current level of services. One of her ‘pet peeves’, as she put it, is the association’s failure to develop alternate revenue streams, especially ones that may be considered non-traditional.
Connie Simpson began by reading a long introductory statement regarding her priorities and plans should she win election. Among many proposals was one to maintain or return foreclosed properties to the same standards of good repair and grooming as occupied homes. She also spoke of acquiring abandoned properties and utilizing them for meetings, events (private or open) and other association purposes, thus relieving strain on the Community Center. She emphasized the value of long term employees and the importance of treating them with respect. She proposed that just as we dedicate a portion of our annual revenue to road maintenance and reserves, a portion should be put into capital reserves with the intention of developing a plan to pave all unpaved roads. She also offered some specific advice on handling any repair contracts, including ensuring the association go with the best bid on projects, securing warranties on work and setting and sticking to cost overrun limits. When questioned on the recent decision to purchase a Ford Explorer as the new security vehicle, she said that a number of similar organizations (which she cited) used the less expensive Escape model, but she was also the only responder to suggest that other nameplates including GM, Chrysler and even foreign manufacturers such a Subaru should have been researched.
June Solla gave the most comprehensive answer on long term road maintenance. She cited the recent Maintenance Committee recommendation that we cut this year’s repaving to only the most severe sections, putting extra money into doing a complete drainage overhaul. This would begin the process of upgrading all road drainage to the highest standards. In the next few years, all roads would be brought to this standard, rather than the endless patch and repatch that we are currently doing. By starting with the fundamentals of road building we will eventually be able to have roads that would need far less patching, and could last as long as ten years before repaving was necessary. Asked to name her three most important issues, she cited finances, security and amenities. She said that realistically, a dues increase was in the future. She said security needed to be increased and that our aging amenities need repairs sooner rather than later because the longer we wait the more difficult and expensive those repairs would be. Asked about leadership she pointed to 12 years in the military and her organizing skills in planning and executing events here and chairing several committees.
By the end of the third hourly installment, fatigue had reduced the gallery to six members. The energy of the candidates, however, never appeared to flag. The takeaway seemed to be that if you are happy with the current board, Millie Bishop should be your number one choice. She has been instrumental, as she pointed out, in much of the board’s actions this year. All the other candidates, including current board member Margaret Fitzgerald, offered criticism of recent actions and pledged to change the way the board does business in the future. Margaret, speaking for a minority on the board, pointed out that she feels there are too many Executive Sessions (read ‘secret meetings’) and that she voted against the purchase of the new vehicle. The three new office seekers all agreed that transparency in doing business was important to build trust with the membership.
And here’s a final side note. An announcement was made at the beginning of the session to the effect that one or more of the candidates had been given advance access to the prepared questions, giving them unfair advantage. Therefore, all previously prepared questions were eliminated and spectators were asked to submit, on supplied note cards, questions they wanted asked. The questions obtained thusly turned out to be excellent. But for some reason, the General Manager was asked to screen the questions for duplicates. A submitted question that asked whether employees or members should control association communications (i.e., the website and Emerald News currently controlled by the GM) was never asked. This presents an amusing irony: did the GM, who controls our communications, ‘control’ the question regarding his control? Food for thought.